No one can deny that the arrival of smart phones and tablets has permanently changed the digital landscape. Businesses used to only have to worry about maintaining a regular website; now, they must take into account the rapidly growing number of potential customers who will be searching for their businesses on smart phones and other mobile devices. And with mobile internet browsing expected to overtake desktop use by 2014, now is the time for business owners to make sure that their online presence is appealing and accessible for mobile users.
There are multiple ways to achieve the goal of having a mobile-friendly online presence. These include using responsive design, building a designated mobile website, and/or creating a mobile application. Depending on the industry, one or more of these may be a good fit, but it’s important to review the options before investing your time and money.
Also referred to as adaptive design, responsive design refers to a web design that can “respond” or adjust to be viewed on any device, of any size. The design “talks” to the device that is viewing the site and responds accordingly. This automatic adjustment helps to avoid frequent zooming in and out or repeatedly having to scroll across large pages on a mobile device’s small screen. This can be a great choice for creating a single website that can be successfully viewed on multiple devices without having to design an additional mobile site. One downside to responsive design is that there is no “responsive advertising,” meaning that your banner and display ads may not display properly unless they are specifically designed for mobile devices.
A mobile site is a website — created with linked-together HTML pages that users access through an internet browser, like any other website — that is specifically designed to work on a smaller display with a touch screen. Similar to responsive design, the design recognizes the use of a smart phone or tablet and redirects users to the mobile version. Mobile sites typically feature streamlined navigation consisting of easily-clickable buttons, and the content presented is often prioritized to display the most crucial information for users on-the-go, such as locations or contact information. Users may still opt to view the full site by clicking a link at the bottom of the home page. Mobile sites are limited by the devices that use them — there is no option to hover over a link on a touch screen.
A mobile application, or app, is a software application that users have to download and install to their phones. Mobile applications allow for greater interactivity, database integration, and gaming possibilities. Mobile apps can be a great way to present some of your business or brand’s most popular interactive functions in a streamlined way — such as online shopping, banking, or interactive maps that display information in relation to a user’s location. Mobile apps may or may not require a user to be connected to the internet. When creating a mobile app, you must decide which platforms will have access to it — if you want it to be available to both Apple and Android users, you may have to build the application twice.
Depending on the size and scope of your business, you may be able to meet your needs with only one of the above choices, or you may benefit from having all three. Making sure that your website itself is mobile-ready is a good first step before adding applications. In any case, there’s no time like the present to make sure that your business is ready to accommodate the rapidly growing number of mobile users.